Cookson's hyperventilating, unbuttoned tales of (usually period) Tyneside passion ricocheting among the social classes in (generally) northern England (The Year of the Virgins, 1995, etc.) were good fun. But here the Cookson formulaic cast of characters--a villain vile, a noble lover, nice girls, and one completely mad shrew--are simply tiresome. The kind-souled kingpin now is bachelor doctor John Falconer, who has just bought into a practice near the estate of Pine Hurst, owned by sly Simon Steel, father of four daughters: lovely Helen, pretty Marion, bouncy childlike Rosie, and Beatrice the horrid. Dr. John is enthralled by Helen, but she and Marion are off to marry; even Rosie is engaged--although later Beatrice will end that, since she wants company in her beloved Pine Hurst, which she plans to save at all costs. Father Simon, you see, has been fatally beaned by a tree, and after his death all his bad deeds are aired: whoring and gambling and drinking. Beatrice is prepared to do battle to preserve her beloved house, now deeply in debt. She glowers, harangues, schemes, manipulates her sisters, and eats chocolates. But there's a hiatus from meanness when she unaccountably mellows and Dr. John, high on wine, unaccountably proposes--but, oh, what a mistake. Beatrice is insatiable in bed (to the hardworking doctor's dismay) and fairly eerie out of it. She not only nips in the bud a Rosie romance, but has been seen to pull a gun on innocent gypsies. By the close, Beatrice is fully bananas, and while true lovers find one another (Helen's fine husband conveniently contracts TB), Beatrice's virtuosi assaults--brick-throwing, flying tackles--lead to a time-honored immolation scene, Mrs. Danvers-style. The dialogue here splatters instead of popping; and there's a plenitude of ""shut up's!"" and other less than inventive up-front sentiments. A lesser effort, then, but never count out the Cookson-addicted.